When I came to Sweden, I was told that one of the most important things I could learn to help me adapt to life in Sweden is ‘tvättstugalagen'(the law of the laundry room).
In a big city like Stockholm, space is at a premium, so all apartment blocks have a communal laundry room. Some people have washers and driers in their apartments but generally the bathrooms are very small, so most people use the communal laundry facilities. The machines are maintained by the landlord and are usually nice and big so you can get huge loads done quickly. In addition there are ironing machines, hot cupboards, folding tables, and facilities for washing by hand. My laundry room has a little library as well.
I tend to do my laundry once every second week and it takes two hours from start to finish. Below is my laundry room. For 85 apartments we have four huge machines, two big tumble driers, two hot cupboards, one ironing machine for sheets and two folding tables. Some laundry rooms are really big though, servicing about 500 apartments.
The rules are pretty simple. You use a manual cylinder (the number on your cylinder corresponds to your apartment number) or electronic booking system to book one set of machines. In the case of manual booking cylinders, if someone has not taken their machines 30 minutes after the time they booked, anyone can use them. If you don’t want to book time, you can ‘park’ your cylinder at the bottom of the board.
So in theory everything should be very organised and civilised. Swedes are non-confrontational by nature and generally follow rules. You also seldom see or speak to your neighbours. But in the laundry room, all bets are off. There is sighing, grumbling, fights over lint left in the machine, passive-aggressive notes about people taking the wrong washing time. You see neighbours you have been living beside for 20 years but never spoken to in their pyjamas and half-asleep, doing their washing. You also see that people who behave really well everywhere else can have bad laundry room manners.
The most common issues are people just leaving their washing in the machines or dryers. That means that a stranger has to take your underwear and other unmentionables out of a machine in order to be able to do their washing. Also – people stealing laundry times, not cleaning up after themselves, not cleaning the lint filters putting softener in the liquid detergent section, dyeing clothes in the machines, washing underwire bras in the machines. And my own pet hate, people who never book but try and sneak their washing in just before your time starts, meaning you have to wait for them to finish.
The funny thing is, I used to think it was unnecessary the way people got so cross over small things in the laundry room. Now I am one of them. And it is true – learning the rules of the laundry room went a long way to helping me learn my way around the culture.
Having done some research though, I found that Swedes are not alone in having frustrations when using a communal laundry!